I began this pursuit in Italy, so I suppose it’s fitting I title this post with the Italian word for farewell.

Lately blogging has started to feel like a bit of a chore — at the worst of times, anyway. And at the best, it’s just not exciting me these days like it used to. I find myself procrastinating more and more.

Since A Tarheel Tastes poured forth from my heart and is no way a commercial endeavor, I’m sure not going to force myself to continue if my heart’s no longer in it.

But you know, “Ciao” is a mighty handy word. It can be issued either when parting … or meeting.

So if fancy strikes again somewhere down the road, I might pop back into this space.

In the meantime, I leave you with candied bacon.

I was recently on a business trip at a golf resort in South Carolina where I helped host some sales award winners. Candied bacon was part of the arrival snack spread, and everyone was wild for it.

The hotel even delivered a dish one night to my room. Fortunately, some homemade Cracker Jack was underneath — but I did take a nibble of the bacon. And for all of you bacon lovers out there: Be prepared to be wowed.

I decided to make a batch for my family at Thanksgiving. There are a billion recipes online for candied bacon, all nearly identical and made in the oven. The technique wasn’t at all what I had imagined.

I should have paid attention to my instincts.

Everybody proclaimed the result tasty, but it was not the resort’s brittle, shiny, toffee-like coating.


So of course I begged the recipe from Chef, and it couldn’t be more simple.

Fry the bacon. Stir, melt and cook white sugar in a saucepan over low heat until it caramelizes, then drizzle over the bacon strips. Let harden. Eat.

That’s it. Easy-peasy.

A big thanks to my handful of loyal followers. Those of you who are local, don’t be strangers. I’m always ready to go grab a bite.

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Easing into winter with bibimbap

Cold weather has returned, and with it my craving for Dolsot Bibimbap.

Say what?!

Most people I know have never partaken of Korean food. Chinese, Japanese and Thai, yes. But not Korean.

My family was stationed in South Korea when I was in college, so I had my first taste of the country’s cuisine way back then — and have eaten it occasionally since, often with family members or other fellow adventurous foodies.

Many dishes are delicious, but Dolsot Bibimbap is always my winter Korean obsession. I ate it for the first time this season a couple of weeks ago at Raleigh’s Seoul Garden, and I anticipate another batch in my near future …

Bibimbap is essentially a rice bowl with many variations. It always contains diced or sliced veggies, often an egg and usually a choice of another protein (beef, seafood, tofu).

If you venture to a Korean restaurant and see the word “Dolsot,” go for that one — it means that the ingredients are artfully arranged and delivered to the table in a large stone bowl that’s sizzling hot from the oven.  Let it sit for a minute so the rice against the bottom and sides of the bowl gets nice and crusty-crunchy, then adorn with chili pepper paste (usually presented in a squeeze bottle and only mildly spicy) over the top and stir it all up, so that the raw egg spreads throughout and is cooked by the extreme heat.

Don’t be surprised if the bowl is still hot even after the bibimbap has all been devoured.

Or most of it, anyway. I’ve never had an order of this dish that’s less than h-u-g-e. And it’s served — as are many Korean entrees — with lots of small little side dishes called banchan. Most seem to be vegetables — some are recognizable, and others are not. Kimchi is always among them.

My mouth is watering just writing about it. Anybody want to join me for a bowl soon?

Posted in Raleigh, NC, Restaurants | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments

The demise of the dawdling blogger

I got a little behind. Then a little more behind. Then a lot behind. So much so that the thought of trying to get caught up was kind of daunting.

It’s certainly not because I haven’t been eating great stuff. Far from it.

So I came up with two ideas to remedy the situation: A one-time systematic catch-up post, and a heartfelt pledge to not ever get so far behind again.

Lots to tell, so here’s how I’m going to tell it:

  • Show a photo.
  • Explain where/when/how/why I ate it.
  • Describe — concisely — what was so good about it.

I’ll wax more eloquently in future. (Not sure whether that’s good or bad, from your perspective.)


Explain: Standout salad at a Panzanella farm dinner featuring Chapel Hill Creamery products.

Describe: Peppery baby arugula and fresh figs, two all-time favorite ingredients. The buttery, brie-like Carolina Moon cheese lent a buttery richness, and candied walnuts a nice crunch. A perfect, fresh Indian-summer starter that, for me, eclipsed the main dish.


Explain: Lunch at downtown Raleigh’s new Zinda restaurant, a slick, shiny-chic “new Asian” spot. Lots of buddhas (including a waterfall of golden buddhas spilling down a tall red wall) and color-changing lights. (Admittedly not everyone’s cup of tea, ambience-wise.) Exciting, creative, and artistically presented food to match.


Describe: Two starters comprised my lunch. First, a colorful-but-plain salad elevated to something more thanks to two ingredients: salty, crisp-fried wafers of taro and a pear-ginger dressing. Then samosas — nicely fried with a typical, satisfying filling. Jewel-bright chutneys were what made this one special: cilantro and — in particular — cranberry mint.


Explain: A hearty fall meal eaten with friends in the Virginia mountains after biking 34 miles — Giada’s Pasta Ponza, crusty bread and salad with a simple lemon juice and olive oil vinaigrette.

Describe: Give the pasta dish a try — it’s simple, cheap, colorful and very tasty. Perfect now that the weather’s cooled.


Explain: I needed a beverage idea for a chilly morning football tailgate party. Smitten Kitchen’s bourbon-spiked milk punch recipe to the rescue.

Describe: Yes, it’s semi-frozen, which seems less than ideal for cold weather imbibing. But the high alcohol content warms you right up. I chose this recipe over others because Deb did the over-analyzing for me, and it uses bourbon and forgoes brandy. It’s like eggnog, only better — trust me on this. (And it’s way easier to make than real eggnog. And less rich and sinful. Kind of.)


Explain: A Matador sandwich from the American Meltdown food truck at this year’s Cooke Street Carnival. This mobile eatery features a variety of gourmet melts that makes choosing just one difficult.

Describe: I picked the Matador that day because of its simple and few — yet high-quality and flavorful — ingredients: Manchego cheese and Romesco sauce on sourdough. Oh, and it was pretty, too, don’t you think?


Explain: 2 starters = 1 lunch at Machupicchu Peruvian restaurant. (You can probably tell I have a tendency toward multiple starters.) The menu is huge and it’s not easy to narrow down choices. So I picked the Tamalito Verde and the Solterito Arequipeno salad instead of a main course.


Describe: The tamale was a pretty green color, thanks to the cilantro blended in with the masa.  It was stuffed with cheese instead of meat — a bonus for me. The salad was the Peruvian equivalent of a chopped salad, bright and delicious with lima beans, tomatoes, corn, onion, cheese, parsley and cilantro all tossed in a light vinaigrette.


Explain: Tea sipped with Erin in Asheville’s atmospheric Dobra Tea shop.

Describe: Dobra is one of the coolest tea shops I’ve frequented. Plenty of them offer a variety of teas, but Dobra’s are all served in special pots with particular cups, and are beautifully presented on stylish trays. The tea-makers are in an open area off to the side and it’s fun to watch them work their skills. Erin had a very sweet hot mint tea, and I drank Memories of Prague, a black tea with bitter chocolate served with a tiny pitcher of hot milk.


Explain: When Erin and I strolled through Asheville’s Jewish heritage festival it was tough to decide which goodies to eat. Had we not indulged in a big brunch several hours earlier I’m sure we would have tried more than two items.


Describe: The latkes were different than most I’ve had — the potatoes seem to have been almost mashed before forming into patties and frying, as opposed to grated. The texture was unexpected but the taste familiar. The cheese-filled blintzes served with sour cream and gooey blueberry jam were heavenly. Especially eaten on a cold, sunny mountain day.


Explain: Every time I eat at Chapel Hill’s Sandwich I try something different. The plethora of unusual offerings and rotating specials make it easy.

Describe: The Keema Naan (minus the chicken) consisted of warm, pillowy naan folded around chickpeas, curried eggplant, basmati rice, raita and spices. According to the menu, the ingredients are “snuggled-up” inside the bread — an apt description. Indian comfort food.


Explain: Brand-new BurgerFi’s veggie offering is pretty good — but since Chuck’s is still my favorite I won’t go there. The fries, however, deserve a mention.

Describe: I’m not a huge french fry lover. Thin, slightly crispy Belgian frites with mayo or aioli for dipping, sure. Or German fries in curry ketchup. Um-hum. Well, BurgerFi’s are right up in that same elevated category. I can’t really put my finger on why they’re so delicious. They’re not that thin (but not thick, either). And I’ve had them twice now with just ketchup for dipping (even though you can order them topped with all sorts of fun things). You’ll just have to take my word for it and try some. And throw in a few h-u-g-e onion rings while you’re at it.


Explain: Regular readers of this blog already know how much I love Jubala Village’s Liege waffles. My go-to is the chocolate chip-banana, but once in a while I’ll branch out and order one of the seasonal specials.

Describe: A work of art! And it tasted as yummy as it looks. This seasonal was drizzled with honey and then adorned pinwheel-style with thin slices of pear.

That’s it — and that’s enough! — for now. The next post will be shorter and sooner. Promise.

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Cluck, cluck little hen 

I love trying out new places!

New to me, anyway. I guess I can use living in north Raleigh as my excuse for not knowing about seven-month-old Little Hen in Apex.

Or is it Holly Springs? It’s listed various places as belonging to both — and I don’t blame either town for trying to claim this fantastic restaurant. One of the best I’ve enjoyed in the Triangle in a long time.

As is the current trend, Little Hen is a farm-to-table spot. (Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining. The more farm-to-table quality eateries the better.) It’s family owned and on the small side, with a simple and appealing decor peppered with farmhouse elements.

The menu has three main groupings of food: Small Plates, Boards and Mains. The Small Plates section is further divided into cleverly named segments like Grinds (sausages), Parts (wings, pig’s feet, marrow, livers) and Grown (veggies). You choose which local cheese and charcuterie you’d like on your Artisan Board, while the Big Boards contain three or four dishes piled onto a wooden cutting board-like platter. (Plenty for two, it appeared, and I even saw several couples leaving with board-leftover takeout containers.)

I chose two vegetable smalls plates and shared another with my friend. The first colorful dish was sliced charred beets with caramelized red onions sprinkled with finely chopped pistachios. A ball of fried goat cheese about the size of a large truffle offered a nice rich counterpoint to the vegetables.

The second small plate was long slices of grilled zucchini served on top of white beans flavored with bits of basil and feta. Straightforward and wonderful.

Fortunately, the shared small plate turned out to be the most generously portioned and we couldn’t manage to finish it despite its deliciousness: fried sweet potato fingerlings coated in thyme honey butter and scattered with bacon bits.

Full as we were, we shared two desserts. (Because what foodie in her right mind passes up dessert when there’s a dedicated pastry chef on staff?) By far our favorite was a thin slice of dense, dense (flourless, I’m guessing) chocolate torte with “crispy topping” (delightful little chocolatey balls) and cherry ice cream and chantilly cream on the side. What great fortune: a few of my very favorite tastes on a single plate.

I’m trying to figure out when I can next make the 35-minute trek to Little Hen. However, I’m sad to admit it probably won’t be in time to sample two must-haves I spotted on the menu published yesterday, since offerings appear to rotate on and off every few days. (Namely, grilled escarole with blue cheese dressing, walnuts and cherry tomatoes, yum.  And, even better, corn and cheddar spoon bread with butterbeans, summer pepper salad and honey.)

Best to make a reservation — Little Hen is very popular. Understandably so.

Luscious Laotian

Yet another Asian restaurant has opened in the space formerly occupied first by Duck and Dumpling and then Fai Thai. Based on Monday’s experience, I believe (hope, pray) Bida Manda will be around for a long time.

The Laotian restaurant hasn’t even been operating a month, and some work colleagues and I dined there on its very first day of lunch service. Despite its youth, there were no service hiccups or food disappointments.

From what I can tell, Laotian food shares similarities with Vietnamese and Thai — not surprising, if you know your geography from that part of the world. I tried my first, but not last, Thai-or-Laotian iced coffee (sorry, I can’t remember which country). Very strong and very sweet, with cream. It reminded me of Thai iced tea without that distinctive smokiness.

My entree was the deceptively plain-sounding watercress salad. Crunchy, herby and pungent, it was comprised of romaine, watercress, shreds of red cabbage, tofu, hard-boiled egg slivers, mint, cilantro and a peanut vinaigrette. I opted for the tempura eggplant add-on (other choices were lemongrass chicken or soy-marinated beef) — small crispy cubes, lightly fried. Despite it being “just a salad,” the flavor and texture made my tastebuds sit up and take notice. And, as with Little Hen, made me want to return sooner than later. For dinner, this time.

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Another medley

I need to hurry and play catch-up tonight before more sure-to-be-blog-worthy culinary adventures hit (Tampa this weekend, a new Laotian joint next week).

So here goes.

Unintentional vegan 

I think veganism gets an undeserved bad rap in most circles.

Don’t get me wrong: I would never intentionally eat a vegan diet for any hefty amount of time. I know it’s healthy, but it’s just too restrictive for my broad tastes. Vegetarian-most-of-the-time is the best I can do. But to each her own.

However, I learned to cook and appreciate vegan food when my daughter went that direction for a few years. And I discovered that there are lots of fantastic vegan eats — you just have to search them out.

I dined at one of my favorite places during the recent downtown Raleigh restaurant week, and ended up choosing vegan selections for all three courses simply because they sounded best.

See what you think: zucchini fritters, farmers market “sushi” rolls and avocado gelato with grilled lime poundcake.


Market’s fritters were satisfyingly crispy-crunchy outside and tender in the center. The
playful sushi was wonderfully textured, colorful and tasty. But the avocado gelato was the highlight.

I was initially a little frightened by the idea of it, but the richness, tongue feel, gorgeous color and surprisingly subtle flavor won me over with the first bite.

I heart maiden cakes

Ever heard of a maiden cake?

Me, either. But my mom enthused so much about the one she’d eaten at Norfolk’s Pasha Mezze  that I had to try one for myself when we went for brunch.

I thought perhaps maiden cakes were a common Mediterranean dish. But Google them and see what you get. Iron Maiden cakes, anyone? Why, no thanks.

As Pasha Mezze, maiden cakes are nicely crisped lentil or quinoa patties served with a big fat slice of grilled tomato and some greens, along with a little mystery “vegan sauce” (see, I’m tellin’ ya … tasty vegan stuff again).

At brunch, the maiden cake becomes one building block of the Maiden Tower dish — the usual suspects, plus toast on the bottom and a fantastically poofy poached egg on the very top. The components are nice and savory, with the creamy sauce adding a lovely contrast.

Sublime sandwich

Important announcement: I have found Raleigh’s best coffee-shop sandwich.

There’s some awesome food to be found in several local coffee shops, and I’ve long loved Jubala Village’s Liege Belgian waffles. For many, many months they were the only food items on the menu. Then came biscuits. And now come sandwiches.

Which is great, because sometimes you just want something savory instead of sweet with your cup of joe.

The grown-up grilled cheese was about as close to perfection as I’ve ever had in that sandwich category.

Sharp cheddar and fresh mozarella (what a great combo!) perfectly melty between two slices of expertly toasted multigrain bread slathered with just the right amount of apple butter. (I don’t like apple butter very much and would never think to put it on a grilled cheese sandwich, but it was a phenomenal addition.)

The little salad of arugula and balsamic reduction was great alongside.


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Katie bakes …

… and sings, and acts.

A blog post in two parts.

Part one

See these delectable-looking cupcakes? Well, they taste as sumtuous as they appear.

Indulge your imagination for a moment:

Oh-so-light-and-tender mocha cake. Moist and a little crumbly. Topped with luscious, full-fat, espresso buttercream. Caffeine in both elements, for an added zing. Chocolate drizzle to top it all off.

Today’s was my first Katie Cake, but I can promise you it won’t be my last.

Katie Cakes is a local (Raleigh) made-to-order cupcake purveyor. Whatever flavors and designs your cupcake lovin’ heart desires, Katie Cakes can deliver the goods for special occasions like birthdays and showers. Or just to indulge your everyday cravings.

Part two

Industrious twenty-something Katie Bowra is the baker behind Katie Cakes, which is just one of her spare-time hobbies. Recently, you might have seen her or heard her voice in ads. Or if you’re a patron of Raleigh Little Theatre, you’ve likely enjoyed her on-stage talents. Oh, and she also manages to squeeze in a full time job.

In case you’re interested in indulging in Katie’s showbiz and baking genius, I’ve got a recommendation for you: Raleigh Little Theatre’s Divas! (Check out Katie’s video on the event website.)

Katie is one of 11 RLT performers vying for the 2012 Divas! crown. $1 = 1 vote. (And a $35 ticket — which you can specify to count toward Katie’s diva-ship — will buy you an evening of glitz and glamour November 10, when this year’s candidates and past winners will dazzle you with show tunes and catchy choreography.)

But here’s the best part: For an online Razoo donation of $50 of more, you’ll receive a dozen Katie Cakes — any flavor of your choosing — redeemable from mid-November through early 2013.

An outstanding performance and outstanding cupcakes, all to benefit an North Carolina’s longest-running community theatre.

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In search of burrata


I finally tasted burrata cheese. Just a smidgen, unfortunately. And it only piqued my interest and taste buds even further.

I had lunch with some work friends at Oro (my first visit) downtown last week, and had already settled on my entree when the word leapt out from the simple description of the flatbread: heirloom tomato, burrata cheese, basil.

The flatbread was good — not remarkable, but just fine. All the ingredients were fresh and flavorful. But the little melty bits of burrata … ahhhh.

Little bits, I suppose, because YOU CAN’T FIND IT AROUND HERE! My server asked in the kitchen for me, and reported that Oro’s is imported from Italy.

So how, might you ask, did I become obsessed with it?

It’s all Blood, Bones and Butter’s fault — the Gabrielle Hamilton memoir I’ve mentioned before in this space. I was mesmerized as soon as I read her evocative description of the cheese’s role in her post-wedding celebration:

We spent the waning afternoon hours having chilled Lambrusco and soppressatta tramezzini, all twenty of us packed into that tiny space where Jason, the owner, let us bring in, instead of wedding cake, a large platter of burratta — the soft, custardy fresh cow’s milk cheese from Puglia, which Michele had introduced me to — and thirty silver soupspoons, and for our wedding cake moment, amply photographed, we exchanged big killer spoonfuls of soft, creamy burrata.

I knew after reading the passage I had to have some. And now after my teasing taste I know I need to have some more.

I want to see and touch a whole ball of it, and cut into it to expose the semi-liquid, cream-and-mozzarella-filled center. And I want to eat it in several different ways. Cool, warm, by itself, paired with things.

So if anybody out there knows of anyplace within a few hours I can find this comestible and satisfy my fixation, shout out, please.

photo from the Falls Church Times


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Just the meals, ma’am

What a fantastic trip to the Pacific Northwest. It’s one of my soul’s homes, right up there with Ireland and northern Arizona. But that’s another story for another time. In this space I need to stick to just the meals …

From the tarmac at Sea-Tac I was whisked by my brother and mom to lunch at Salty’s on the water at Redondo Beach in South Seattle. Mom had been before, and I couldn’t resist the Signature Seafood Chowder she raved about.

Similar to plain ol’ clam chowder in that it’s creamy and made with potatoes and clams. But in this case, also scallops and shrimp. A table-side trickle of sherry and sprinkling of fresh ground pepper added the finishing touch. Well, that and the waterside table and sunshine and an excellent local beer. Perfect beginning.

The seafood theme continued with a grilled salmon dinner at my brother and sister-in-law’s Anderson Island lake house. While everybody else was making steak sandwiches and PBJs the next morning for a seaside picnic, I turned leftovers into an excellent salmon salad for my lunch.

After lunch and exploring we pulled up crab traps only to find them filled with female Dungeness crabs, shown in the photo (it’s illegal to keep those). So we re-dropped the traps near the boat dock, a guaranteed Red Rock crab spot — success.

Red Rocks are similar to Dungeness, but their shells and cartilage and harder and sharper — making them more difficult to pick — and they don’t have quite as much meat. (Of course, I can’t personally vouch for the picking challenge. I was allowed to simply enjoy my G&T and keep the pickers company.) Mom proclaimed the Red Rock meat to be tastier than Dungeness, and she used it to make my great-grandmother’s deviled crab casserole. You’ll find the recipe at the end of this post.

On the way from Kelly’s vacation house to a new permanent home in Tigard, we stopped in Portland to eat at a Chowhound-lauded pizza spot on Hawthorne Boulevard. Our appetites couldn’t bear the 45-60 minute wait, so we strolled a few doors down to get in the long but seemingly fast-moving line at the well-named Por Que No Tacqueria. (IMHO, when it comes to tacos, “why not” is the ideal sentiment.)

Funky, casual and mostly open-aired, Por Que No is festooned with myriad south-of-the-border colors and tchotchke.

We all agreed that the food and atmosphere were fantastic — and the price was right.

I had a rum-spiked horchata and two of the specials, a la carte.

It’s often difficult to find a good vegetarian tamale, but Por Que No served the best I’ve ever tasted. The masa was stuffed with potato, anaheim pepper, red onion and tomato, and topped with “red sauce.” A tame — and ultimately misleading — description of an exceedingly spicy dish. It’s a good thing I like heat. As in the kind that had my scalp, upper lip, forehead and under-eye areas sweating freely. I fully expected hot tamale follow-up the next morning, but was pleasantly surprised. Thank god.

My summer veggie taco was billed as spicy, but compared to the tamale it was child’s play. Still very flavorful, what with the stuffing of corn, sumer squash, red pepper, Swiss chard and green beans all sauteed in pepito pesto and topped with salsa de arbol and queso fresco.

The next morning a gaggle of us family members went berry picking at Rowell Brothers Farm.

You might have heard of Oregon’s plentiful salmon or pinot noirs, but maybe not its berries. The part of the state we were in overflows with them during the summer — boysenberries, loganberries, blackberries. We were seeking whatever was plentiful and looked best, which ended up being blueberries, marionberries and raspberries.

Berry season hit early this year, I suppose because of the big heat, and it was the last pick-your-own day at Rowell Brothers.

The blueberries were prolific, perfectly ripe and supersweet. And easiest to pick. You barely had to pluck and they’d pop from the vines.

Next were marionberries — or Marion blackberries — which I’d never had. They’re considered the “Cabernet of Blackberries” and are a large, full-flavored cross between two other varieties. They were not easy to pick, holding tightly to the thorny vines. The kids gave up quickly, so we only picked down one row (much to my dismay — they were fantastically delicious).

And finally, we gleaned the very last of the Cascade Delight raspberries: sweeter, larger, longer and firmer than other more common varieties. The vines had been picked over and we really had to hunt for them. (A lilting “come out, come out, wherever you are” was my niece Riley’s tricky technique.)

All together we managed to pick several bucketsful before the sun forced us out of the fields.

And of course, we ate plenty while picking — most farms have all-you-can-eat-on-the-spot-free policies.

Mom baked a big pan of mixed berry crisp that night, and Kelly made us all blueberry pancakes the next morning using my late dad’s recipe. (Yet another one for you at the end of this write-up.)

Mom and I met a friend for Sunday brunch at a newish place called The Parish, located in  Portland’s trendy Pearl district. The ambience was lovely, with floor-to-ceiling windows, Big Easy colors and flourishes, and jazzy live music.



The menu featured both traditional and push-the-envelope New Orleans dishes. I opted for one of the latter: local squash blossoms stuffed with fresh goat cheese and topped with cucumber and romanesco squash. It was a riot of flavors and textures. I wished for Italy’s larger versions of the delicious blossoms, and cut them into small bits to savor them longer. The sauce was good enough to beg some of my mom’s baguette to sop some up.

Our last full meal was quintessential Portland: a variety of small plates from one of the city’s food cart “pods.”

Unlike those in Raleigh and Austin, Portland’s portable eateries are known as carts instead of trucks. Which makes sense, as most of the ones I’ve seen there are smaller and more pod-ish.

The Triangle’s trucks are very mobile, moving between special event and regular gigs and spots (like microbreweries). In Austin there seems to be a combination of mobile trucks and those settled outside certain venues or clumped together in small “trailer parks.”

Portland’s Good Food Here was one of the two most highly acclaimed pods. It features more vendors (15!) than any of Austin’s parks, and several places to sit and eat, including a covered picnic table shelter. Like a tiny, funky and slightly edgy foodie neighborhood. Unlike Raleigh’s trucks, most of the carts operate on a cash-only basis — but the pod provided an ATM.


Jay and I decided to share an appetizer of Macarena (with spinach, garlic and jalapeno add-ons) from Herb’s Mac and Cheese. But the cook misunderstood and instead gave us a classic version. It was so good neither of us missed the other ingredients. Very, very rich and creamy. One of the better mac and cheeses I’ve ever had.

Next I ordered a prawn baguette from EuroTrash (boasting European and Mediterranean food with sloppy American flair). The bread was stuffed with curried prawns and topped with bright and crunchy cilantro slaw and a zingy sauce. Very satisfying.

Other family members’ dishes included pizza and grilled cheese (for the kids), homemade chips with chorizo and curry aioli, a Bulgogi cheese steak, and seared tuna tacos.

But when it came to dessert, the steamy evening made us all scream for ice cream.

Fifty Licks — wow! What fresh, original flavors. I can’t believe nobody in my bacon-lovin’ family ordered the maple with bacon flavor.

After a few tastes, I was torn between two sorbets, so got some of each in one cup: coconut lemon saffron, and passionfruit with Szechuan peppercorn. Visually, it was difficult to tell them apart, but tasting the difference was a breeze. The passionfruit was super-intense and sweet, and after many bites in a row it was nice to switch over to the more soothing coconut-lemon-saffron. I also tried — and loved — my niece’s Tahitian vanilla and my brother’s … jasmine tea and apricot (or something like that). What a treat — real and high quality ingredients make such a difference.

And finally, I toasted goodbye to Portland with two local (Pacific Northwest, anyway) beers at Bailey’s Taproom — the Pyramid red wheat with fig being my favorite of the pair.

I hope that’s enough to keep you satisfied for awhile, because it is now time for A Tarheel Tastes to go on a serious diet. Summer of excess, indeed.

Now, here are the two recipes promised earlier:

Mimi’s deviled crab casserole

No measurements, sorry. You’ll just have to exercise your good judgment and personal preference, and wing it. (This tastes nothing like the deviled-crab stuffed shells you can find in restaurants along the coastal Carolinas, by the way.)

Mix mayonnaise, lemon juice, yellow mustard, raw eggs and melted butter. Mix in chopped hard-boiled eggs, coarsely crushed saltine crackers and cooked, picked crabmeat. Spread evenly into greased casserole dish, and top with more crushed saltine crackers mixed with melted butter. Bake at 350 until bubbly.

Jim Haggerty’s pancakes

Mix together the following ingredients in a bowl (don’t overmix) and spoon onto a greased pan or griddle to cook:

  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/4 cups buttermilk
  • 2 T. shortening
  • 1 1/4 cups flour
  • 1 t. sugar
  • 1 t. baking powder
  • 1/2 t. baking soda
  • 1/2 t. salt

My brother Kelly makes fluffier pancakes by separating the egg, beating the white and gently folding it into the batter at the end.

And finally, a photo snapped at an Asian market in Tacoma to leave you with a smile. (Idiot fish will be on my tasting menu next time I visit out there, I promise …)

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The rodeo next door

Certifiably unfunky Midtown hosting a food truck rodeo?! Believe it or not, it’s true

Now that food trucks have finally been legalized in Raleigh, I’ve gotten used to seeing them roaming around inside the beltline, making appearances at various downtown events, parked outside brewpubs to help beer aficionados soak up and stretch out their drinking, and dishing up lunch at NCSU’s Centennial Campus.

But Midtown? Right across the street from my stuffy workplace, no less?

After my first few exciting and frustrating experiences with food truck rodeos — delicious food, yes, but also crowds, long lines and sell-outs — I now prefer small events that feature just a few trucks. But I couldn’t not attend today’s lunchtime rodeo, especially considering that it was right next door and 10 percent of the proceeds were being donated to the Payton Wright Foundation in support of families dealing with pediatric brain cancer.

Eight trucks crammed into the parking lot today: Klausie’s Pizza, Chirba Chirba Dumpling, Captain Poncho’s Tacos, Olde North State BBQ, Big City Sandwiches, Philly’s Cheesesteaks, Lumpy’s Ice Cream and Kona Ice.

The longest lines formed quickly at Chirba Chirba (thank goodness I’ve already sampled their fare several times) and Captain Poncho’s Tacos (heavy on the meaty offerings). I’d had my mouth set on Big City Sandwiches since first hearing the truck lineup. It’s only been on the road a few months and serves creative sandwiches named after cities near and far.

The single veg offering on today’s menu was something I’d make at home (hummus and veggies in a wrap), so I found myself eating cold cuts for the first time in years. At least they were high-quality, hormone- and nitrate-free organic deli meats.

My Santa Fe sammie was satisfyingly large, tasty and had a nice kick. It was: smoked turkey, pepperjack, chipotle mayo, mango salsa, red onion, lettuce, tomato and avocado on a nice soft bun.

For dessert, a black cherry shaved ice with creamy deliciousness drizzled on top, courtesy of Kona Ice. (I’m not sure what the drizzle on American snowcones consists of. And while it doesn’t quite measure up to  the sweetened condensed milk topping on Panama’s raspados, whatever it is tastes pretty damn good.)

Yes, the lines and waits were long. And it was sunny and HOT. But the atmosphere was convivial and smiles abounded, conditions that always seem to go hand-in-hand with food trucks.

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You may have heard the word before. Apparently it has a number of disparate meanings, several of them uncomplimentary terms for people. My favorite (according to the Urban Dictionary) being: A derogatory (mean, rude) name for a ridiculously straight man. Often associated with trailer trash, Chumbo’s tend to be womanizing, beer drinking, steak eating, american football watching heterosexists (homophobics).

But forever after in this space and in my taste memory it will refer to the heavenly concoction created by North Myrtle Beach’s Rockefeller’s Raw Bar. “Ch” for chowder and “umbo” for gumbo.

Imagine one half of a bowl filled with ultra-thick seafood chowder (the creamy kind, with potato chunks) and the other half containing a slow-cooked gumbo. A line of rice divides the two stews.

Sounds like an unlikely pairing, I know. If my mom, uncle and aunt hadn’t been raving about it I never would have ordered the dish.

But I summoned my courage and asked for a bowl as my entree, accompanied by steamed veggies (cooked to watery limpness and lacking in any flavor at all, unfortunately). When I saw some of the others’ tiny little appetizer cups arrive I was glad I’d gone for the bowl.

Turns out a cup would have been just right. It was so rich I couldn’t finish.

The savory brown gumbo was a perfect counterpoint to the decadent chowder. (I could literally feel the heavy cream coating my mouth.) I alternated between eating bites separately and mixing the two together on my spoon. Thank goodness for the balance brought by familiar, bland rice.

Rockefeller’s ambience added to the Chumbo experience. The dark interior is punctuated with mermaids, nautical brick-a-brack, old-school sportfishing chairs turned into barstools, fake palm trees, a touch of low-key rowdiness and a good measure of drinking-to-get-tight. Rockefeller’s is a notch too nice to be a dive but far from a fine dining establishment — comfortable, warm and fun. My kind of place.

Next time, I’ll go for one of the steamer kettles — maybe scallops or lobster chunks steamed in wine and garlic herb butter, served over pasta. With a cup of Chumbo, to start.

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